On the Internet, no one knows you’re human

Posted on 18th February 2012 in digital identity, media, philosophy, technology and society

Our digital identity crisis never ceases to astound me.

Remember that old cartoon with the caption: “On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog”?
Nowadays just substitute: “On the Internet, no one knows you’re human”.

We are constantly mistaken for robots, for machines.
Or rather, we are presumed machine until proven human.
It seems everytime we click these days, we have to squint our eyes to decipher alphanumeric characters often too cryptic even for human retinae.

Please confirm your password: you must include at least one number, one non-alphanumeric character, one capital letter, one ancient greek alphabet, and one ounce of memory loss… where will it end? Good thing my password is the same for everything:

     2 ∞ & →



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On the twelfth day of Christmas, my Facebook gave to me…

Posted on 11th December 2011 in media, technology and society

Variation on a theme: the 12 days of Christmas for a Facebook Age.
On the 12th day of Christmas my Facebook gave to me:

12 dudes I’m blocking,
11 friends just watching,
10 corny topics,
9 guys a-gawking,
8 friends complaining,
7 stalkers stalking,
6 party invites,
5 Drama Queeeeeens!
4 game requests,
3 photo tags,
2 poking friends…
And a creep who won’t stop friending me!

Here’s the version I wrote en Francais:

Le Douzieme Jour de Noel
J’ai recu de mon Facebook:
12 Evenements
11 Ex Tarres
10 Photos Moches
9 Commentaires
8 Mises a Jour
7 Messages Nuls
6 Harceleurs
5 Egoiiiiistes….
4 Faux Profils
3 Idiots
2 Bons Amis
…. et 1 con qui cesse pas d’me draguer!

                     Joyeux Noel a tous!


Digital Darlings: Episode 2 of our Technology and Society Podcast

Episode 2 of our Digital Dyspeptic podcast is now out! Sticking to our alliterations, the topic we’ve chosen for this podcast is “digital darlings” (love and relationships in the digital age).

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(You can also access it directly here).

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From California to Oregon: A 16-hour mobile phone call

A mobile phone saga made it on Anderson Cooper’s Ridiculist this week. A woman spent 16 hours in a “quiet” train car talking non-stop on her phone despite complaints from fellow passengers and announcements on the intercom. She was finally kicked off the train.

What surprises me most about this story is that apparently there are people out there who still use their mobile devices for talking. What doesn’t surprise me is that we haven’t managed to find the right balance when it comes to techno-social etiquette…

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The Digital Dyspeptic: A New Podcast on Technology and Society


I just launched my new podcast exploring the impact of technologies, like the Internet, social media and the mobile phone, on society. It’s a humourous take on the subject and i’ll be starting every show with a limerick. Nothing like nonsense rhymes to get you in the podcasting mood – it adds fuel to the coffee I assure thee!

So here’s the first episode:

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(You can also access it here)

Future episodes will zoom in on more specific topics such as “digital darlings” (a.k.a. love in a digital age) or “digital dexterity” (a.k.a. every circus needs a juggler). Or even “digital detox”.

Thanks for listening!  And please do tell me: how much of modern technology are you finding hard to swallow?

If you use iTunes, you can subscribe to the podcast

You can also subscribe to the feed at http://feeds.feedburner.com/digitaldyspeptic/
Or check out the
podcast website.


Distance of Another Kind?

Posted on 19th April 2011 in digital identity, media, philosophy, technology and society

In many respects, the always-on digital world has brought us closer together. It facilitates distance communications, in particular, and helps maintain and build relationships. But in other respects, are people as close as they seem?

Online interaction lacks many of the clues offered by face-to-face interaction; many of the unsaid, visual and tactile clues necessary to effectively communicate and form judgments are missing. This leads to greater potential for misunderstanding and affects the level of intimacy between people.

In addition, the use of digital gesturing (like emoticons, pokes or likes) has introduced a certain ambiguity in human interaction online, due to the difficulty in interpreting these uni-faceted signs in what is a multi-faceted context.

Moreover, it would seem that people have become more guarded in some ways. With all the mobile gadgets around to use, some have somehow become harder to reach: there is more call screening, more email or text rather than face-to-face or voice interaction. Many people have become increasingly weary (if not wary) of picking up the phone and talking to someone. The expansion of communications across borders has certainly led to greater social interaction and community building. But has the so-called (physical) death of distance led to a distance of another kind?

Online “asynchronicity” and the illusion of intimacy

Posted on 28th February 2011 in digital identity, gadgets and apps, media, technology and society

Much of human relationship today is mediated through some form of technology.

So how much do we really know about those we interact with, when it is our devices that have become our eyes and our ears, in a faceless and nameless digital world?

Take for example the disbelief of the Naperville man who sent $200’000 to a fake online girlfriend. Although the relationship continued for over two and a half years, there had never been any face to face interaction. Police confirmed that the girlfriend never existed. But clearly, the man had felt a certain intimacy and complicity. Quite apart from questions of fraud or misrepresentation, the story did get me thinking about the effects of online interaction on our understanding of people and relationships.

Distant and remote interaction between people, especially those unfamiliar with each other, can create a deluded sense of intimacy. This is the consequence of a number of factors:  e.g. the ambiguity of “digital gesturing” (pokes, nudges, smiley faces), digital multitasking, and the sheer quantity of posted information online (some of which is verifiable some of which is not).  But what I think most affects the illusion of intimacy online is the overwhelming amount of “asynchronous” or “pre-rehearsed” communications.

More often than not, there is today a contrived expression of thought or feeling. Many people first text or chat before engaging in a “live call”.  People somehow prefer to be forewarned.  In addition, many prefer to limit their interactions primarily to text, even to essentially non-reciprocal broadcast text (tweet, status update etc..). So gut reactions and spontaneous expression of feeling seem to be less and less prevalent.

It seems, therefore, that an important set of clues or signs that enable people to build relationships and trust have gone missing. And this affects the authenticity of all communications.  For it is difficult, if not impossible, to expect human beings to make choices in social relations based solely on quantity rather than quality, on prepared text rather than spontaneous expression, on tactile screens rather than tactile handshakes, on emoticons rather than emotions.

When I first heard the story a couple of years back of the Japanese gamer who married his virtual Nintendo girlfriend, I thought that it reflected just this sort of illusion. But whatever you might say about the quality (or intimacy) of that virtual relationship, the gamer may be better off (and more ensconced in reality) than that poor fellow in Naperville who just couldn’t see the difference.

Technology and Society @ the WUG Research Symposium

Posted on 14th February 2011 in digital identity, philosophy, privacy, technology and society

Last Friday, I gave a talk as part of the Webster University Research Symposium, on the effect of technology on society, and in particular on the tensions we face today in our transition from the old to the new.

In the digital world, we re-invent ourselves, re-write ourselves into being over and over again.  But isn’t that what we have always done? Try to re-invent ourselves, improve on who we are?

So that begs the question: how does technology help us do that? How does it hinder us?  And in today’s digital world, a world at the same time bound and freed by the internet, what are the tensions that we must recognize in order to build a better world?

I chose six such tensions to present: 1) Reflection,  Illusion 2) Inversion, Distortion 3) Multiplicity, Fragmentation
4) Presence, Absence 5) Visibility, Invisibility 6) Reciprocity, Voyeurism.

Have a listen to the podcast below:

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(You can also listen to it here)

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It all began with withdrawal…

Posted on 2nd February 2011 in technology and society

Technology is affecting every aspect of our daily life.  For some, SMS has become indispensable – so indispensable that many people text before engaging in a “live” call, if at all.  Losing a mobile can cause anger, denial, frustration, panic… all the stages of a so-called digital bereavement. It occurred to me as I spent part of the holidays away from home with no internet access, a broken fixed line and a lost mobile phone just how connected we all need to be. For the first few days, I was beside myself. Imagine that – i would be unreachable  and would not receive those new year texts that happily clog up the networks on the 31st.  Withdrawal symptoms lasted a few days and I then adapted. I got to know the payphone again and was most thankful to irish pubs for their free wi-fi access. In order to meet up with friends, we decided in advance where and when and established contingency plans. It was more difficult, but strangely enough, it always worked. And the effort we put into meeting up seemed to add something intangible to the interaction, especially when making new friends. Now, mind you, I was more than delighted to return home to find my mobile in the dark hole that is the floor of my car.  Alas,  my digital exile was over!  Hello world!  How complex has become, I thought, our relationship with technology.  And so began this blog….